By Dana Dornsife, Founder, Chief Mission and Strategy Officer, Lazarex Cancer Foundation
I love this time as we transition from one year to the next. It affords the perfect opportunity to look back at what we’re grateful for, as I did in my end of 2021 blog – it’s also a chance to look ahead to new possibilities in the coming year and the actions we must take to pursue them.
At this point in the pandemic, there’s an urgent need in healthcare – especially among cancer patients. In a recent interview, the head of the National Cancer Institutes classified COVID’s impact on cancer care as ‘hellacious’. But rather than becoming overwhelmed by the increased need and the ever-widening disparities, Lazarex is working harder than ever. It’s a reminder of how critical our work is and how important it is that organizations and advocates work together to serve cancer patients across our country who need us.
Here’s how we plan to do that in 2022.
Continue to push for travel reimbursement for clinical trials into the pharmacological space
When I founded Lazarex Cancer Foundation 15 years ago, our first and only focus was reimbursing cancer patients for the travel costs associated with clinical trials. We continue to do that for patients who contact us directly for help. However, today through the Lazarex IMPACT (Improving Patient Access to Cancer Clinical Trials) Program, we are also collaborating with research centers to offer patients in participating cancer centers the option of travel reimbursements at the time of trial enrollment, removing this barrier to equitable access and increasing both participation and diversity.
Now, the next important phase of collaboration around reimbursements comes with pharmaceutical companies, for all the important clinical trial research they are doing on new and potentially life-saving medications and treatments. We are seeing a growing trend in pharmaceutical companies collaborating with us to offer travel reimbursements to patients – recognizing how critical it is to diversify the participant pool and engage underserved communities to improve cancer health equity. Several companies joined us in the past few years including Amgen, Merck, Genentech, Gilead, Seagen, Daiichi Sankyo, Syros, Mirati, Blueprint Medicines, and Servier.
There is momentum on this front and we are looking forward to continuing to expand the number of pharmaceutical companies we collaborate with in 2022. If you are with a pharmaceutical company and your organization does not have a travel reimbursement program yet – I have no doubt that you want to be part of this trend. If you are looking to support community-based programs that improve equitable access to quality cancer care including clinical trials, please reach out to us. We have proven programs to assist with this very important level of support.
Increasing our IMPACT into communities across the US
Our IMPACT Program is now underway at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center and MD Anderson. We are excited that IMPACT has shown we can improve enrollment and diversity in clinical trials. Now we are hopeful that with these partnerships we can explore new ways of sustaining that success once IMPACT concludes. This year – we’re also expanding this program into a new area – community hospitals.
The majority of hospitals in the US are community hospitals. As of 2019, there were more than 5,000 with nearly one million hospital beds and 95% of patients are treated at their community hospital or clinic.
In order to move the needle on disparities in cancer care, we have to expand our work beyond comprehensive cancer centers to meet patients where they are and where they seek care.
That’s why Lazarex believes IMPACT can make a difference in the community setting. We’re currently studying how to adapt the program to have an increased presence in communities across the US to engage with patients and make it easier for them to access clinical trials.
Introduction of a Virtual Cancer Wellness HUB
Lazarex Cancer Wellness HUBS are at the core of the work we do in the community. These pop up sites create a safe space for community members in churches, recreation centers and other community gathering spaces to talk about their health concerns related to cancer and explore options from prevention through treatment and clinical trials.
We currently have HUBs operating in West Philadelphia and Los Angeles and we are working to create one in the Bay Area this year too.
I’m especially excited that we are also expanding this model to create a Lazarex Virtual Cancer Wellness HUB that people will be able to access from anywhere in the country. We can’t be everywhere for everyone. It’s not physically or financially possible. But we believe this novel idea is the next best thing.
We’re starting with what we know works best for the in-person HUBs and building off the great successes we’ve seen there – creating the Neighborhood Ambassador Network, witnessing engagement with residents around cancer-related topics, and providing the much-needed access to resources that residents need to improve cancer health outcomes. Then we’ll work this year to adapt that to reach people in communities across the country. We have created and will continue to create culturally appropriate materials and resources for Black, Hispanic, Chinese, Korean, Russian, and LGBTQ patients. As we grow to serve more communities, we will add more resources and languages.
We realize there are technology challenges for underserved residents so we will collaborate with community organizations to provide accessible technology for those who don’t have it. We will include an educational element to make sure that once people can access the platform; it’s clear how to use it.
A key part of our Cancer Wellness HUB Programs is to provide a trusted resource, the Cancer Care Companion, who offers support across the continuum of cancer care and is there to guide and help them throughout the entirety of their cancer journey. Our goal is to bring resources together to make that easier for all involved and I look forward to seeing our vision become a reality.
Disrupting the System – for the 5th time
We will hit a milestone this year with our 5th Disrupting the System event. In this powerful and important event, we bring together leading innovators, change-makers, advocates and experts to engage in difficult and courageous conversations in the hopes of driving change. This event gives us the opportunity to explore some of the most challenging issues in cancer care. I believe it’s important to have these kinds of honest and vulnerable discussions about the barriers and challenges to accessing quality cancer care and resources. We’ll be exploring several provocative and important topics this year – including payer mix. If you want to be part of it – as a sponsor, panelist, patient, doctor or expert – or you have a topic you’d like us to consider, please reach out and let me know.
Collaboration is a critical part of what we do – from our events to our advocacy. If you’re working with us to advance change to help cancer patients – thank you. And if you’re not – please reach out. I’d love to meet you, connect and find ways we can work together in the coming year.
Dana Dornsife is the Founder and Chief Mission and Strategy Officer of Lazarex Cancer Foundation, which she founded 15 years ago when she realized how many patients, including her late brother-in-law, needed financial assistance for the costs that come with FDA clinical trial participation. It is now the only national non-profit in the country that provides financial reimbursement for travel costs associated with participating in the research. Lazarex Cancer Foundation has assisted more than 7,000 patients since its inception and continues to help more than 1,000 cancer patients per year during the COVID crisis.